When musically presumed emo legends meet realistically nerdy middle-aged men, Illinois’ American Football is born. These kings of the complicated “math rock” genre have spanned generations with their polyrhythmic, time signature-ridden ballads of confession. The 17 year hiatus (yes, I said 17 years) after their debut album’s release in 1999 didn’t stop them from conjuring up what I considered to be one of 2016’s best albums with American Football (LP2) (read more: FeenyFaves – Top 10 Albums of 2016). The band featured a varied set between their storied tracks of the 90’s and their new-age post-rock continuation, but the disparity between the crowd’s fresh faces and graying hairs told the true story of the eclectic range of lives American Football have affected with their music.
The night began with Portland, Oregon’s Pure Bathing Culture, who were frankly a bit middling. Their intros had inviting pulls, but the continuation of each song often became monotonous and boring. Their hooks didn’t differ much from their base verses, while I found myself impatiently waiting for the next song to start midway through the previous track so that I could experience some sort of variation. Pure Bathing Culture was followed by Land of Talk, an indie band from Montreal that snowballed their way to a cumulatively exciting performance. Despite a slow start, their set picked up when the piano player unexpectedly abandoned his keys and picked up a French horn to get the crowd off their feet with a rousing brass solo. The band then started floating between genres like they were playing through an unbounded practice session. They jumped from indie rock, to surf rock, to post rock, all the while fighting a myriad of technical difficulties that were completely out of their control. Their ability to react to those technical failures and ad-lib their way to an impressive set left the band in a nervously sweaty state of dissatisfaction, but the crowd rallied behind their set with a sincere appreciation for their successful opening role.
As American Football took the stage, it wasn’t hard to hear grown men screaming to lead singer Mike Kinsella “We love you Mike!” from all corners of the venue. Kinsella tried to be connective and introduce the band by asking “So what you guys want to talk about?”, but that question only brought on anticipated nerdy answers like “What do you think about time signatures?” Luckily the group of aging geeks played along, with one member jokingly refuting “Girls never get it man! I try to tell them about the time signatures but they just never understand!” Their goofy structure was quickly reflected in their instrumental interchangeability, as members would often drop their instruments so that three of them (including their non-performing guitar technician) were shaking maracas or tambourines while yet another lightly tapped away on the xylophone. Even drummer Steve Lamos would momentarily abandon his sticks for occasional trumpet solos, all of which had the audience undeniably glued to a slower, more individualized change of pace. Unnamed instrumental solos littered the set in a creative display of improvisational splendor, but lingering technical difficulties that one band member eventually coined “The night of a thousand amps” continued to haunt the band. American Football’s acclaimed 2016 single “I’ve Been So Lost For So Long” didn’t translate to the live stage well with failing equipment lapsing over several unfortunate instances, but their most celebrated 1999 track “Never Meant” sparked a cathartic and unified bellow from the audience to cap off a dramatic night.
Favorite Live Tracks: My Instincts Are The Enemy, Desire Gets In The Way, Never Meant, Where Are We Now?, You Know I Should Be Leaving Soon